• Fistful Of Dollars, A



    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: May 22nd, 2018.
    Director: Sergio Leone
    Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, John Wels, Gian Maria Volontè, Wolfgang Lukschy
    Year: 1964
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    The Movie:

    The lead role in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars was originally offered to Henry Fonda and then to Charles Bronson but would eventually wind up making Clint Eastwood a household name. A lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (Kurosawa and company successfully sued the filmmakers for copyright infringement), the international success of the film would kick start the Spaghetti Western phenomena into high gear and result in dozens, if not hundreds, of imitators over the next decade and a half.

    In the film, Eastwood plays Joe (better known as ‘The Man With No Name’ though never actually referred to by that handle). He’s a rough and tumble cowboy who rides into the small desert town of San Miguel, close to the border of Mexico. After making short work of four tough talking gunmen, he wanders into the saloon where he makes Silvanito (Jose Calvo of Giovanni Grimaldi’s In A Colt’s Shadow), the bartender. He tells him about the problems that the town has to deal with. It seems that two well to do families from the area are at war with one another and are slowly but surely tearing the town apart with their feud. These two families, the American Baxter’s and the Hispanic Rojo’s, could care less about who gets in their way and it’s because of their behavior that so many men have wound up dead.

    Joe, smart sonuvabitch that he is, figures he can work one side against the other if he plays his cards right. This could not only save the town a whole lot of grief but earn himself a healthy sum for services rendered in the process. This works for a while but soon things go wrong. After a few nasty and violent incidents, he’s going to have to showdown with the only remaining member of the two clans left with any clout: Ramon Rojo (Gian Maria Volonte who Leone would later cast again in For A Few Dollars More made just the next year).

    Shockingly violent and grim compared to the American westerns of the same time period, A Fistful Of Dollars was, while not the first Spaghetti Western, certainly the most influential one up until that time. Financed by German, Italian and Spanish investors and made for an international audience, the film capitalized on Eastwood’s good looks and rising star power (it was made during his time off on Rawhide) to create a new kind of anti-hero, one which would be imitated time and time again. Joe is only out for himself and while he doesn’t go out of his way to hurt anyone and does occasionally help people along the way (he returns ‘kept woman’ Marisol, played by Marianne Koch, to her husband and son and gives them money to escape), he certainly doesn’t turn the other cheek when someone wrongs him. He’s not quite a good guy and Joe has no qualms about letting anyone know that. He’s hardly the traditional cowboy type played by John Wayne in so many more traditional American western films in the years before.

    The look of the film backs this up. Whereas before we’d expect the west to look clean and serene and beautiful and scenic, here the events take place in a rough and beaten up town set in and amongst a harsh and unforgiving desert. You won’t see anyone singing ‘Happy Trails’ in this arid landscape, made obvious by the type of people who inhabit it. When Eastwood’s character – a man willing to shoot four men for harassing a kid and bothering his mule - is the ‘hero,’ you know you’re surrounded by scoundrels, as he’s hardly an angel himself.

    The ‘borrowed ideas’ from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo are obvious, but by changing the time and place where it all takes place Leone was able to put his own unique spin on the story and really make it his own film rather than a half-assed Kurosawa remake. The two directors had very different styles and as such, made very different films despite the obvious similarities inherent in the material in terms of story structure and plot devices. While Leone would only get better and more ambitious from here on out, A Fistful Of Dollars is an amazing film when you take into account how fast and for how little money the film was made. As an action movie, it’s fantastic - it flies by at a rapid pace and provides ample opportunity for violent action and tough guy posturing. In comparison to the films that Eastwood and Leone would later make both together and apart, it was a foreshadowing of the greatness to come and the humble beginnings of an amazing body of work.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    A Fistful Of Dollars arrives on a 50GB disc from Kino Lorber using what certainly appears to be the Ritrovata restoration from a few years ago that was taken from a 4k scan of the film’s negative. This results in an impressive uptick in detail when compared to the previous domestic Blu-ray release from MGM (reviewed here) but as those familiar with the Ritrovata restorations of the Dollars Trilogy pictures, it leans quite heavily towards an overtly yellow pallet. With their release of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (reviewed here) Kino tried to color correct Ritrovata’s work with mixed results. For this release, it looks like they’ve presented the Ritrovata transfer ‘as is’ and as such, the color timing is going to irk some. The yellow push results in previously blue skies looking grey and the whole thing looking quite ‘sun drenched.’ Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t and it’s really going to come down to personal preference here – but the color timing issue aside, the technical merits of the transfer are solid. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition image, properly framed in the film’s original 2.35.1 aspect ratio, is quite clean, showing very little print damage aside from the occasional small white speck. Detail and texture are solid, especially in those close ups that Leone made such great use of, and the film is given a good bit rate and is free of obvious compression issues. The image is also free of noise reduction and edge enhancement problems – so there’s plenty of good here… but the colors, well, they’re pretty yellow. The unaltered screen caps below provide an accurate assessment of the color scheme here.

    English language tracks are provided in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional English subtitles provided. The 2.0 track sounds great – the score really benefits from the lossless treatment here and as such, heightens the tension and the drama in the film considerably. Dialogue sounds clean, clear and nicely balanced, gun shots have the right amount of punch behind them and there are no issues with hiss or distortion. The 5.1 mix obviously spreads things around in ways that the other track can’t, and it sounds fine for what it is – but purists will opt for the 2.0 track.

    Kino has included a lot of extras here, starting with a new feature length audio commentary by Tim Lucas. As you’d expect if you’re at all familiar with Lucas’ commentary work, the track is meticulously researched and delivers a balanced mix of insight and opinion on the film’s qualities with the expected amount of historical information in regards to the production history of the film. He offers up plenty of thoughts on Leone’s style, its influence and influences, Eastwood’s performance, Volontè’s work in front of the camera, the locations that were used for the film, Morricone’s expert score and plenty more. It’s all offered up at a good pace and in a very listenable, relaxed tone.

    Carried over from past releases is a commentary by Christopher Frayling. Those who have heard his commentaries before know that this man truly knows his stuff. Having written Something To Do With Death, the definitive Sergio Leone biography, there’s probably no one out there who knows more about the late, great director’s life and times than Sir Frayling does. Frayling packs this track with all manner of information from details of pre-production and casting problems to trivia regarding certain cast members and what they’ve been up to since the film was finished. Frayling, for his book, got to talk to a lot of the people involved in the film and so he has no shortage of things to say about A Fistful Of Dollars and how it would go on to impact the rest of Leone’s career, and subsequently Eastwood’s as well. Frayling did a great job on the group commentary on Paramount’s Once Upon A Time In The West two disc set and does an equally great job flying solo on this release.

    After that, dig into a thirty-two-minute-long interview with actress Marianne Koch. This is quite an interesting piece as she looks back on the film and is quite open about the hesitations she had in playing a woman of Mexican heritage, her thoughts on Eastwood’s acting (which she didn’t understand the appeal of until she actually saw footage from the shoot), issues with the film’s morality and quite a bit more. She also talks about other interactions with different cast members, including a very political Volontè, what it was like on set dealing with different people speaking different languages, how she got along with Leone and her thoughts on his directing style and how she feels about the movie today with the advantage of hindsight. This is a great addition to the disc and very much worthwhile for fans of the film, given that none of the other surviving cast members are interviewed on the disc.

    From there, more archival featurettes beginning with another piece featuring Frayling entitled The Christopher Frayling Archives: A Fistful Of Dollars. This eighteen-minute documentary is a piece in which the noted Spaghetti Western historian and Leone biographer shows off some great pieces of memorabilia from his very extensive collection. Here we see the original script, some posters, lobby cards and even some records. For movie memorabilia collectors, this is a pretty cool segment.

    After that we move on to a documentary on the making of the film entitled A New Kind Of Hero. This is a twenty-two-minute look behind the scenes, once again with Frayling as our tour guide, that delves into a lot of great technical information on how Leone shaped his vision of the American west and how the technology available to him on a limited budget (the movie was made for roughly $200,000.00, low even by the standards of 1964) came into play while he was trying to do so. Though it does cover some of the same ground as the commentary track does, there’s not too much cross over and this is a very interesting look at Leone’s working process early on in his career and it makes for an interesting comparison when you read up on how his later films came into shape.

    An eight-minute featurette with Clint Eastwood entitled Two Weeks In Spain gives the man with no name himself a chance to spill his guts about the film. He talks about his experiences on set, how it was sometimes difficult to communicate, why he took the role and how it worked for him.

    A second documentary entitled Tre Voci is up next. This one clocks in at eleven-minutes and it examines the English language version of the film by interviewing the three men responsible for making that happen – Alberto Grimaldi, Mickey Knox, and Sergio Donati. All three men have got some interesting stories about some of the director’s eccentricities and bizarre working methods, and once again it makes for an interesting companion piece to the feature film on disc one.

    The additional prologue scene that was shot for television is included here along with some insight from Howard Fridkin, who just so happened to record it on Betamax when it was broadcast and as such has the only known copy of it in existence. Taking that into account, it’s no wonder that it looks like it’s in pretty rough shape, but it’s great to finally have a chance to see it, even if it is completely out of place in the film. This prologue was to take place before the opening credits sequence and has Harry Dean Stanton a lawman who sets a body double for Clint Eastwood free so that he can, in return for his freedom, take care of two problem groups, thus giving Eastwood’s character stronger motivation for events that would take place later on in the film.

    The Not Yet Ready For Primetime featurette is a six-minute segment with Monte Hellman who talks about his involvement in creating the aforementioned prologue for television broadcast. Hellman doesn’t seem too proud of his work here, and he tells some amusing stories about how it came to be and about how Clint Eastwood told him he didn’t remember filming it (which makes sense, because he didn’t).

    Rounding out the extra features are five minutes’ worth of location comparisons, a Trailers From Hell piece on the film hosted by director John Badham, roughly three minutes of outtakes, ten different radio spots for the film, three separate still galleries, a trailer for the feature, a double bill trailer, bonus trailers for Leone’s other western films, menus and chapter selection. Kino has also included some nice reversible cover art for this release.

    The Final Word:

    The one that started it all, Fistful Of Dollars deserves its place in the collection of anyone interested in westerns or just true, epic filmmaking. Leone, Eastwood and Morricone would only get better together from here on out but this one still kicks all sorts of ass. As to the Blu-ray itself? The disc is stacked with extras, carrying everything over from the old MGM release and adding a fair bit more, and the audio is solid – but the transfer is a mixed bag really only because of the colors.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

















































    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      That sure is yellow. Jeez.
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